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Artist Sees India Through Egyptian Eyes


By Jayson Casper

Special to The Media Project

Early on a Saturday morning, Mohamed Abla traced his whimsical silhouettes with only a few looking on. Everywhere along his stretch of the 150-foot wall surrounding the famed Khan Market in New Delhi, folk art-inspired images of children, animals, and birds burst into life. Previously drab and barren, the wall had served as a garbage dump and public urinal. Over the past three years the Delhi Street Art group has been transforming similar locations of urban blight into monuments of community pride. But on this occasion, their 62-year-old Egyptian guest felt compelled to add a somber reminder.

He drew a stick figure of the Eiffel Tower, and enclosed it in a circle. Paying homage to Paris through Jean Jullien’s image, Abla could have thought of Egypt, his home five thousand kilometers away. After all, his native land has also witnessed terrorists blasting away at the country's institutions. For the past five years, revolution has jolted the Egyptian street and national psyche alike. But instead of lamenting Cairo, Abla aches for India.

“I felt that Indians were worried about terrorism,” he said, “having experienced it themselves in the past. Paris was a stark reminder.”

Abla’s attachment to India runs deeper than just creative sentiment. For the past seven years he has visited frequently, dazzled by the assortment of colors and smells, bewildered by the proximity of tradition and technology. His eyes and his canvas soaked up images of big cities and ancient villages. He noted the simplicity of people and the grandeur of temples.

His memories poured out through his paintbrush.

“The eyes through which an artist sees another culture are always fascinating,” said Sanjay Bhattacharyya, India’s Ambassador in Egypt, at the opening of Abla's exhibition at the Maulana Azad Center for Indian Culture, in Cairo. “Abla has shown us things we haven’t seen.”

Perhaps the ambassador should spend more time out among the people because Abla’s artwork, displayed March of last year, captures images common to Indian life. People walking on the street, frequenting temples, riding bicycles, and encountering animals. Abla’s art draws out splendor even as he depicts culture in its most simple forms.

Abla 1
Abla’s written Arabic translates, "Delhi Streets." Suffering heat and humidity, jostled by passersby, threatened by moving vehicles, the average Indian contends with crushing numbers of people in the streets and just wants to get through to his destination. But an artist takes in the larger scene, rendering the chaotic movement into a moment of beauty.

Abla 2

Taken in by the nobility of a simple soul moving his sack through the mass of humanity, Abla writes, "In the streets you always find the one, existing with himself, walking in his kingdom."

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